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Full text of "Rapid Population Growth Consequences And Policy Implications"

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do not remain valid for long. They are made obsolete by the advances in the sciences, by new and better materials and skills, and by a wide array of improvements in economic opportunities that affect the production of food. Moreover, the established parts of this knowledge suffer from a high rate of obsolescence. The economist sees disequilibria in the food economy and also in the demographic components determining the growth in population. The responses of farmers and of parents to these disequilibria the world over, some slow and other rapid, contribute to the obsolescence of the knowledge that we possess.
Thus, caution is called for not only in interpreting the abundant agricultural and population statistics, but even more so in projecting the trends that these statistics appear to reveal. Interpretations are no better than the fragments of theory upon which we are dependent in analyzing these data. There is no general food-population theory for the purpose at hand. The processes that determine the rate of obsolescence of these bits and pieces of knowledge are as yet only vaguely understood. From the viewpoint of an economist, I shall mention several reasons why caution is necessary in drawing inferences from the recent past and also in making long-range projections.
We are dependent in large measure upon national aggregates that conceal a vast amount of heterogeneity. The differences among the components that make up the aggregate are often of decisive importance. In the production of food, for example, the heterogeneity of farmland is obvious to anyone who knows agriculture. The large differences in the quality of irrigation structures that are concealed in the total acreage under irrigation is another troublesome aggregate. A similar difficulty characterizes the measurement of each of the major classes of durable capital (6) and of the other inputs, including the skills of the farm labor force (7). It is fair to say that when it comes to explaining the responses of farmers to economic incentives (and linking these responses to agricultural production), these aggregates conceal as much as they reveal (8). Nor is micro-analysis—an examination of farmers—a satisfactory solution of this problem because of the difficulty of integrating the micro fragments, a difficulty which is in no small part a consequence of the gaps between micro and macro theory.
Land as Limitation
That the supply of land is limited is a truism, but as a factor in agricultural production, this limitation is the source of many misleading conclusions. Physically, the area of land within any country is given. The supply of cropland in any country is highly inelastic for any given crop year. If one assumes static economic conditions, the application of additional labor and capital to land is the classical case for diminishing returns; but these assumptions and
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